not a straight line

April 26, 2012 § 4 Comments

Russian Hawthorne

I’m trying to learn more patience with setbacks. It’s been more than a couple of months since my last chemo treatment and I had thought I’d be in SoCal this month catching up on family time with my parents and sisters. Instead I spent three weeks with a drain in my pelvis ending with a couple of infections, thankfully slight since my immune system is pretty strong again. When one has a hysterectomy due to malignancy, the surgeon removes a lot of lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread to them (I had none :)). But this causes a lot of trauma to the lymph system, and I ended up with a softball-sized encapsulation of lymph fluid called a lymphocele. Needless to say, it was a bit uncomfortable and I needed to grin-and-bear-it until I completed chemotherapy because of the risk of infection from the drainage procedure. That’s done now, and my medical port (which delivered the chemo drugs and IV’s) was also removed last week. I’m thankful I had a good IR (Interventional Radiology) Team who did the work and closed that chapter with me.

We’ve had an unusual warm early Spring, but the typical April weather setback after bringing out the shade umbrella

I also had my first 3 month followup with my gynecologist. “So, Dr. L, what are we looking for since all of my parts that you’d be interested in are gone?” I’m a big fan of Dr. L of Kaiser. Until my encounter with Cancer, I didn’t even have a GYN doctor. For me, he’s been the right mix of concerned competency and confidence, an active listener and advocate in my case. I’ll have 3 months checks with him for two years, interspersed with occasional radiological studies. I’ll see my oncologist Dr. H a few times as well. Things are good.

My ears aren’t bigger, my hair’s just shorter

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asparagus ~ 3 ways

April 20, 2012 § 4 Comments

For many, nothing says Spring like Asparagus! Although it grows wild along the ditches bringing water to farms, I’ve haven’t had much luck growing it in my garden. So I rely on a few local farms that grow this perennial short season vegetable. Earlier this month I got some lovely purple spears sent over the Rockies from my friends Max and Wink of Mesa Winds Farm. Max and Wink started their farm with the existing fruit orchards, but they have branched out into wine grape and wine production and raising sheep. If you visit Colorado’s western slope during harvest or winery festivities, you would love staying in a cabin on their farm, starting your day with a breakfast of just gathered eggs and just picked produce or fruit. Heaven on Earth!

It may seem a little worky, but I recommend peeling asparagus rather than just snapping the bottom ends off. You remove just the thin colored skin, which is often fibrous, and you can see exactly how much of the bottom stem is tough (it will appear whiter than the rest of the stem). You can trim as little as 1/4 inch of the bottom or find that the entire stem is tender. I get much less waste and since asparagus can come at a precious price, all the better. Leave as whole spears or chop as you desire.

I roasted (or you can grill) the asparagus for a risotto dish, “blanched and shocked” it for a salad.

This was an easy one pot meal–boil penne pasta and add the asparagus towards the end. Save a ladle of the salted cooking water, drain and toss the pasta and asparagus with feta, olive oil, black and red pepper and a squeeze of lemon; add a little of the cooking water if needed. Another night we had risotto with spicy coppa, fresh herbs and roasted asparagus.

Asparagus, local soft-cooked eggs and bacon, not so local toasted hazelnuts on a bed of over-wintered spinach dressed with a sherry vinaigrette. I actually chilled the soft-cooked eggs, peeled them and then reheated by frying them in the bacon fat, but you can skip the second cooking or poach them instead. I was just playing with my food.

I’ve been loafing

April 15, 2012 § 12 Comments

OK, you caught me. I haven’t posted for two weeks. But I’ll have a note from my doctor for an excused absence, promise!

Subtitled: A Lemon Loaf with Altitude (at 5000 feet)

I baked this Baking with Julia recipe in two small ceramic bakers, so I’d have one to give and one to taste. After reading a few of the TWD P&Q (translate Tuesdays with Dorie Problems & Questions) posts (dry, not enough lemon flavor), I made some on-the-fly changes. The resulting loaves seem true to the recipe’s introduction (moist, firm, rich and dense) and I was able to slice them as thinly as the recipe promised, yielding many servings/samples. The lemon loaf got many positive reviews and my husband thought it quite lemony. I think adding a little lemon juice, and some plain yogurt imparted a tartness that reinforced the lemon essence from all of the zest. Also, the acid from these ingredients helped keep the cake tender since I used all-purpose flour, and the extra liquid helped keep the cake moist. Here are my high altitude (and other) adjustments explained:

  1. increased salt to 1/4 teaspoon (improved flavor)
  2. added grated zest of 3 limes (my lemons were small and I also wanted the color)
  3. switched cake flour to all-purpose (made cake sturdier so it didn’t fall in the center, but could become dry and tough)
  4. added about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (flavor, additional moisture and avoid problem from 3.)
  5. added 1/4 cup plain whole yogurt (flavor, additional moisture and avoid problem from 3.)

There are some common high altitude adjustments that I didn’t make to this recipe:

  1. reduce sugar – sugar tenderizes, so I kept it the same since I used AP flour
  2. reduce leavening (baking powder) – it was such a small amount already, and I didn’t want a brick
  3. increase oven temperature by 25°F – this helps set the exterior of the cake quicker so it doesn’t over rise and then fall in the middle, but I had already reduced the size of the cake by using 2 loaf pans (they baked in less time)

The science behind high altitude baking is based on the fact that the higher you go, the lower the air pressure (think thinner atmosphere). Picture a balloon; if there’s less pressure surrounding that balloon, what might happen? Yup, it’ll get too big and pop. When you make a cake batter, you want it to have a lot of fine bubbles that will leaven and lighten the cake as the air bubbles expand from the heat of the oven. When the cake is done, hopefully the liquid batter has set into the desired type of cake, light and airy angel food to dense and rich pound cake. But if the ingredients aren’t balanced for altitude, you can get a cake that rises to great height in the oven and then collapses, leaving you with a dense gooey center (the classic high altitude dog dish cake). Or because water boils at a lower temperature at altitude (same reason, less air pressure so it changes to steam quicker), breads and cakes dry out during baking. Adding some extra liquid is almost always a helpful adjustment. It can seem like a maddeningly impossible task to learn how to make such a variety of adjustments. Be patient. Pay attention to your measurements and technique. Observe, dissect, taste and analyze your results. Decide on a small number of adjustments, and try again. With experience, you’ll be able predict what adjustments might help when trying a new recipe, and you’ll become a more confident high altitude baker (and a more knowledgeable food scientist).

The recipe began similarly to a genoise sponge cake, but the eggs, sugar and salt are just mixed to uniformly combine, not to a ribbon stage.

I combined the zests with a little lemon juice and mixed that into the egg-sugar mixture.

The rest of the ingredients are ready for the final mix. In the top bowl, I’ve combined the cream and melted butter with some yogurt; all at room temperature or slightly warmer so the butter doesn’t solidify. The egg mixture is on the right, and the flour and baking powder has been sifted 3 times so that it will blend in quickly and easily without forming dry clumps. The flour is sifted over the egg mixture in portions and folded in with minimal stirring.

I took a small amount of the batter and quickly stirred it into the cream-butter-yogurt mixture. This made it easier to fold the “batters” together and avoid over mixing which can lead to dry tough cakes.

Thin slices of the lemon loaf are rich, moist and pack a lemon-lime punch! They reminded me of a pagoda when I took this picture.

liebster = favorite

April 3, 2012 § 9 Comments

I just got a Liebster blog award from Mireia of Baking in Spain fame.

Mireia and I are an ocean, a culture and a generation apart, but we now have a close connection via blogging. I got my toe in the waters of social media this year via my love of all things food. Sadly the prelude to having the time was a cancer diagnosis last year. Happily, I’m now officially in remission. Thanks for the love, Mireia! And thanks to Dorie Greenspan and Tuesdays with Dorie founders Laurie and Jules for opening the door.

My Liebster Blog awardee’s “love pat” duties are…

1. Link back to the person who gave it to you and thank them. Check!
2. Post the award to your blog. Check!
3. Give the award to five bloggers with less than 200 followers that you appreciate and value. (It’s a great way to get to word out there about other blogs!) Check, check, check, check, check!

4. Leave a comment on the five blogs to let them know that they have received this award. Off to fulfill my last duty. Check!

a last minute pizza rustica

April 3, 2012 § 29 Comments

I kept waffling about whether or not to participate in this TWD round with Nick Malgieri’s pizza rustica from Baking with Julia. Pro’s were I like Nick’s books and have several of them; his recipes work well and they give a good balance of sweet, savory, salt and richness in the results. Also, I like making pies or pie-type dishes, and am always interested in trying new crust recipes. Con’s were, I had just used up a batch of pasta frolla I had frozen to make an apple pie LAST week. And almost a month of very-warm-for-this-time-of-year weather wasn’t making me feel much like making a rich savory cheese pie for a meal! But today was cloudy and cold all day, which quickly got me into a pizza rustica mood in time for dinner. Picked up the ricotta and a small package of pre-sliced prosciutto and pinch hit with some cheeses I already had (cream cheese for the mozzarella, a parmesan for the pecorino and a few ounces of feta to bump up flavor and salt). I also added a splash of sauvignon blanc for some acidity and a generous grating of nutmeg; I think the sweet spice pairs well with dairy flavors. The already blooming and greening spring garden contributed some overwintered parsley. Making the rustica took just over an hour since blind baking wasn’t required. It baked in 45 minutes while I cleaned up the kitchen. I made a green salad with lemon and olive oil while I let it cool and settle. And we enjoyed a simple but rich dinner with the rest of the sauvignon blanc!

My 35 year old 4.5 quart KitchenAid mixer still does a great job on small batches of doughs or batters! Use the flat beater to cut in cold cut up butter until the dry mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. I used whole emmer flour for half of the all-purpose.

Stream in the beaten eggs on low speed and mix just until the dough roughly comes together (I added a little water to help). I portioned and wrapped the dough before chilling it briefly in the freezer while I made the filling.

Some of the filling ingredients, clockwise from top left: whole ricotta, prosciutto, farm eggs, garden-fresh parsley, grated grana padano.

I beat the cream cheese first, added the spices and a chunk of feta and beat again. Then the eggs, one at a time, followed by the other cheeses, white wine and “garnishes”.

The chilled dough had firmed enough that it was no longer sticky, but it wasn’t too hard and rolled out easily. It was still very tender and almost crumbly, so I rolled it loosely around the pin and brushed off the excess flour to move it to the pie dish. Then I rolled the smaller portion into a circle large enough to cover the top of the pie dish, and cut a dozen strips with a rolling cutter.

Use the strips from half of the circle, starting with the longest one in the center of the pie, and alternate on either side of that one while using strips from longer to shorter ones.

Rotate the pie slightly and place the remaining strips in a similar manner across the first layer. I like the look of a 45° angle, or you can place them at 90° if you like. Bake until both the bottom and top crusts are firm and both have browned somewhat. The filling should be set so that a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Try not to overcook the custard filling (it should still jiggle a little in the center) or it can “break” (the solids become grainy and the liquid starts to separate out). I bake all pies on the baking stone to help the bottom crust cook through. This one was a little underdone for me, but we didn’t blind bake the crust first as the pie had a top.

I’d like a little more color on both top and bottom crusts, but an overcooked custard would have been a worst crime! There was plenty of salt and flavor from the feta, nutmeg and black pepper. The leftovers will make a fine breakfast or lunch later this week! Buon appetito!

a new April Fool’s Day tradition

April 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

VERY LOCAL OMELET (3-mile eggs, Mark’s chèvre, Jay Hill Farm’s chard and spring onions, garden chives and parsley, Mo’s bacon) served with my Hot Cross buns and a Virgin Mary

Looking at this bright sunny photo, you might think we moved back to southern California. Nope, fooled ya! We’re still in Boulder, but it feels like the weather has moved here from SoCal. March set a record for high temperatures and low snowfall (almost nothing in the month that we expect to get most of our snow on the Front Range). I spent a good deal of time out in the garden, a few days in shorts, when normally my activities would be indoors and include trying to stay warm and dry. I can’t complain about getting a break from winter without having to travel, but I’m actually looking forward to getting some rain soon.

I did squeeze in a little of my own baking between challenge baking and gardening tasks…

Our “house” sourdough with mixed grain flours, apple pie and orange currant emmer scones (I froze some for later so we didn’t gain 5 pounds apiece).

And some cooking with Phil manning the grill (yup, it’s been warm)…

Grilled garlic-rosemary lamb and potatoes, shrimp risotto with peas and red pepper (locally frozen), and “Steak-for-Phil Night” with Hana patiently waiting for something yummy to hit the deck.

Finally, I did bake the Hot Cross buns for Mellow Bakers’ first Hamelman Bread challenge yesterday. His recipe used a unusually liquid sponge to get the dough started. It’s a somewhat rich sweet dough made from milk (no water), and included a couple ounces of butter, an egg, freshly ground allspice (I really liked that addition), and a pretty hefty load of currants, plus traditionally, candied lemon or orange peel which I didn’t have or make. I simply substituted the zest of a lemon which gave a nice fragrance without more sweetness, although I will plan ahead and candy some peel next time. The mixing technique was interesting because you combined all of the final dough ingredients including the butter and egg, before you added any liquid which was all in the sponge. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as gluten development from adding ingredients in this order, and it took several minutes for the dough to finally grab the dough hook so it could be effectively kneaded in the mixer. It was a little on the dry side after I added the currants (they had probably been in the cupboard a little too long), so I finished kneading those in by hand. My temperatures were a little cool, so I allowed some extra time for both the bulk fermentation and proofing the buns, and I skipped the light fold since my dough was on the firm side and had plenty of gluten strength.

My sister who does live in southern California just started to teach herself how to make bread by hand (instead of in the bread machine which she’s done for years). I got her both of the Mellow Bakers challenge bread books for her birthday and to encourage her baking (hopefully I haven’t scared her off). I’m sure we’ll both have occasions to appreciate the “mellow approach” when we get busy with other things. Oh, so why I mention this, is that my copy of Bread had a different crossing paste recipe than hers. The ingredients were just flour, oil and water – ick! She gave me the recipe in the updated edition which uses butter, milk, vanilla, sugar, lemon peel and flour (I skipped the egg because I reduced the recipe x 1/4) – yum! All in all, I was pleased with how these turned out. The aroma and flavor from the allspice had a good intensity, the texture was pleasantly chewy from the firm dough, and although some of the currants popped out when I portioned and shaped the buns, I liked the generous measure. The last two buns were even good day old with brunch this morning.

The sponge just after mixing and after proofing for about 40 minutes.

Final dough with all ingredients except for liquid; after adding and mixing in sponge.

After several minutes on low speed the dough finally grabs the dough hook but is still rough; add currants/raisins and lemon zest (in place of candied peel) towards the end of kneading.

Beginning and end of bulk rise (1 1/2 hours in my cool kitchen).

Portion slightly larger than 2 oz. and shape into buns; cover to proof another 1 1/2 hours.

Updated sweet crossing paste ready to pipe.

Pipe in one direction first, then turn pan to finish the crosses; paste holds a nice string for a neat cross pattern. You can see Hana’s forefeet peeking out from under the rotated pan. She’s hoping I’ll drip some paste on the floor for her to taste.

The buns brown very quickly but keep them in the oven for the minimum time to ensure doneness. These have just been brushed with the simple syrup for a sweet shiny (and sticky) finish.

First bites show a nice crumb and generous fruit. I substituted 2 oz. of the white flour with whole wheat and could increase to 25% with a slight increase of milk for the extra absorption of moisture from the bran. I’ll probably make these again next weekend for Easter Sunday.

My sister’s Hot Cross buns. Nice pic sis!

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